Anderson: Exploring the Selway River by helicopter

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 27, 2013 - 11:59 PM

Yes, a horse could get you to the Selway. But a chopper is quicker, and the fish don’t care.

hide

After a day of fishing the Selway River in Idaho’s Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, anglers returned to the helicopter that brought them to the remote location. Various mountainous grass airstrips and landing areas exist in northern Idaho for recreational access, as well as for use by search, fire and rescue teams.

– Between steep canyon walls, the Selway River wound below us among boulders the size of pickup trucks. This was a few days ago, and Paul Ehlen banked the helicopter over the tops of ponderosa pines and Douglas firs so thick the craggy landscape seemed impenetrable. Losing altitude now and still more, Paul angled the Eurocopter A/S 350 steeply within the river canyon, then raced the machine downstream about a mile before arresting its forward speed, tilting it slightly tailward and settling us gently onto a bed of dry grass and small rocks. Not far away, the Selway, one of the world’s most beautiful rivers, rumbled and spilled, bisecting the Lower 48’s third-largest wilderness area.

We had come to fish the Selway’s westslope cutthroat trout in water so clear you can see a fish rise to a fly from 4 feet down. On this day, two small bush planes were parked helter-skelter alongside our remote landing strip, perhaps having dared the mountain updrafts and sudden cloudbursts on a lark, or perhaps to camp or to start or end a rafting trip. In any case, the strip undulated in the manner of a kiddie roller coaster, challenging pilots on approach, and is one of more than a dozen such makeshift fields carved out of Idaho’s backcountry, kept there for fly-ins such as ours, but mostly for forest-fire crews and rescue teams.

With six of us on board, we had come in heavy. Also we toted our fishing gear, lunches, emergency equipment and the odd really big revolver. This last, we imagined, might serve no good purpose, except perhaps to discourage the occasional rattlesnake. Also its heft feels comfortable in hand, and anyway we were west of the Mississippi, suggesting, somehow, the sidearm’s appropriateness, if not necessity.

“It’s about a 2-mile hike back upriver,’’ Paul said as we assembled fly rods in the chopper’s long shadow.

We were a motley crew.

Paul is a longtime friend from Bloomington and hobbyist pilot who can fly just about anything with wings — or, as in this case, with blades and a rotor.

Also along was Ken Weinheimer, a helicopter pilot who for years flew rescues, among other work, in these same mountains, before which he ferried L.A.’s beautiful people to fancy lunches and beach galas, all the while dodging other helicopters on similar vectors while hovering high above the clogged 405 or Hollywood Split.

“It was good to get out of there,’’ Ken said.

In our group as well was Robert Gary, an expert angler, Montana fly fishing guide and owner of Latitudes Outfitting Co. in Hamilton, Mont. And we had picked up my son, Trevor, a student in Missoula and also a Montana fly fishing guide whose boss, Robert, had given him the day off to fish with his old man.

Finally, and as evidence of just how accepting the five of us were of foreign cultures, we allowed a California guy, Doug Gloff, to tag along — but only because he’s originally a Midwesterner (Indiana) who is happiest while residing at his Montana river place.

• • •

Horses are the other way to reach this portion of the wilderness, and the six of us followed a tired path beaten over many years by tired hooves, this while the morning revealed itself in bursts of optimism.

As we hiked, the very wild Selway twisted below us in varying degrees of declension, and from the trail we spotted deep pools and other areas likely to hold trout. Littering the way forward were pine deadfalls and the craggy flotsam of ancient geologic collisions. Finally we dropped down to the river in ones and twos, tiptoeing from rock to rock with fly rods in hand.

Streamside, Trevor said, “Try this,’’ and handed me a Chernobyl Ant, also known as a foamy thing with legs.

I tied the fly on.

Then, throwing a 5-weight with 4X tippet, I sent a loop of line airborne, watching as the fake bug settled onto the rushing river, and watching also as it gathered itself quickly amid foam lines of separating currents.

Then it was carried downstream, its appearance to trout, I hoped, that of fast food offered free.

There.

  • related content

  • Bear researcher Rogers explains lawsuit against DNR

    Sunday July 28, 2013

    On Monday, Ely black bear scientist Lynn Rogers met with Gov. Mark Dayton in an attempt by Rogers to have Dayton reverse the Department of Natural Resource’s decision to pull...

  • Ancient glaciation in the mountains of northern Idaho produced rushing rivers like the Selway, whose streambeds and banks are strewn with rocks and boulders.

  • Paul Ehlen of Bloomington cast a fly in the Selway River, Idaho, while fishing for westslope cutthroat trout.

  • Ranging from 8 to perhaps 18 inches, the Selway River’s cutthroat trout aren’t big, in part because of the river’s cold temperature and its relative lack of insects and other food.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

Kansas City 3 Bottom 9th Inning
San Francisco 2
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Cleveland
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Pittsburgh
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Washington 10/27/14 7:30 PM
Dallas
New Orleans 10/30/14 7:25 PM
Carolina
Dallas 117 FINAL
Orlando 92
New York 80 FINAL
Toronto 83
San Antonio 87 FINAL
Houston 96
Miami 104 FINAL
Memphis 98
Minnesota 113 FINAL
Chicago 112
Phoenix 99 4th Qtr 2:03
Utah 93
Sacramento 49 3rd Qtr
LA Lakers 48
Denver 31 2nd Qtr 8:52
Golden State 39
Portland 44 2nd Qtr 5:20
LA Clippers 34
Dallas 3 FINAL(SO)
New Jersey 2
Tampa Bay 4 FINAL
Winnipeg 2
Vancouver 3 3rd Prd 7:49
Colorado 5
Carolina 2 3rd Prd
Edmonton 2
Columbus 1 2nd Prd 9:31
Anaheim 2
Connecticut 21 FINAL
(18) East Carolina 31
Miami-Florida 30 FINAL
Virginia Tech 6
So Florida 17 FINAL
Cincinnati 34
Troy 13 FINAL
South Alabama 27
BYU 23 3rd Qtr 9:43
Boise State 41
(6) Oregon 24 2nd Qtr 10:23
California 14
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Hawaii
(2) Florida State 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Louisville
Troy 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
Cincinnati 10/31/14 7:00 PM
Tulane
Tulsa 10/31/14 7:00 PM
Memphis
Purdue 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
(17) Oklahoma 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Iowa State
Oklahoma State 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
(10) TCU 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(22) West Virginia
Texas 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Texas Tech
Northwestern 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Iowa
Maryland 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Penn State
Houston 1 FINAL
Chicago 2
Montreal 23 FINAL
Ottawa 17
Saskatchewan 20 12:38
Calgary 15
Hamilton 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Winnipeg
Hamilton 10/31/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Winnipeg 11/1/14 3:00 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Toronto 11/2/14 11:00 AM
Montreal
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close